Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 20 seconds.
The U.S. Marine Corps is partnering with the Air Force on its Agility Prime initiative to encourage development of the commercial electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) industry.
According to Carmine Borrelli, deputy of the Logistics Innovation Office supporting the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, the Marines expect to contribute both funding and potential use cases to the Agility Prime effort.
“We’re already working with Agility Prime on various analyses we’ve done for the last couple of years,” Borrelli told reporters in a March 10 conference call organized by the Vertical Flight Society, explaining that the Marines intend to support the initiative “in any way that we can, including [through] use cases that we’ve developed.”
Agility Prime seeks to catalyze growth in the U.S. eVTOL market by supporting aircraft developers in their testing and certification efforts. The Air Force also expects to provide near-term government use cases for eVTOL aircraft that could provide revenue and data to help accelerate civil certification.
Rather than dictating the development of the technology, the Air Force aims to leverage commercial innovation to procure highly autonomous aircraft that are inexpensive to maintain and operate for a variety of logistics applications. According to Borrelli, the Marine Corps is likewise looking to “ride the coattails” of the commercial eVTOL industry.
“We want to seriously consider and match the industry’s approach,” he said. “If the market is moving towards the 1,000-pound cargo platform that’s a flying car, and many [of them] are going to be out there and the cost is going to go down considerably, then it would be in our best interests to figure out how . . . we can use that platform to do what we need to do.”
The partnership with the Air Force dovetails with the Marines’ broader efforts to develop “unmanned logistics systems – air” (ULS-A) in small, medium, and large sizes, including models with conventional, electric, and hybrid-electric propulsion systems. The expanded use of drones for cargo transportation promises to reduce risks associated with moving cargo by ground, as well as free up conventional aircraft for other missions.
The Marines envision using small ULS-A — with payloads of around 60 to 150 pounds (roughly 25 to 70 kilograms) — to provide emergent and routine distribution of supplies between neighboring ground units.
Meanwhile, medium ULS-A would have payloads of around 300 to 500 lb. (135 to 225 kg). These aircraft would be used for platoon resupply, and could potentially accomplish limited casualty evacuations or emergency extractions of one to two people.
The category of large ULS-A includes aircraft with payloads of 1,000 to 3,000 lb. (450 to 1,360 kg) or more. This category encompasses the unmanned Kaman K-Max helicopters that flew cargo missions for the Marines in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2013, and which are currently being upgraded with more advanced autonomy packages.